OPINION: Please, parliament: protect kids from pedophile priests

The Australian

December 26, 2017

By Chrissie Foster

A total of 37 per cent of the 15,000 survivors who came forward to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse were sexually assaulted within the Catholic Church. These atrocious crimes against children were not committed by suburban delinquents or bikie gangs — but by your local clergy.

Back in March 1996 when my husband, Anthony Foster, and I began our battle against the Catholic Church hierarchy over the sexual assaults of our own child by a priest, it was at a time when a rumour flourished — that supposed victims were liars after money. This lie was taken as the biblical truth by the faithful.

That, together with a priest’s status — claiming they became another Christ when ordained — meant we were easily dismissed by priest and parishioner alike. But there was no hint of the black-hearted Father Kevin O’Donnell being another Christ with his child rapist career, which spanned 50 years as a priest.

A secret report dated August 2, 1995, by Melbourne Response’s Carelink head Richard Ball on O’Donnell stated “he had some early involvement with young folks but nothing much until shortly after ordination (1942), and from then on until three or four years ago (1991/92)”.

Complaints were acted on by the hierarchy — various archbishops took actions to protect O’Donnell. He was left in place or moved to a new parish to continue sexually assaulting children which he did at every primary school he oversaw.

This criminality is what we were fighting, and the arrogance and heartlessness of these ontologically changed holy men — I could neither believe in them nor stomach them. Who could once the truth was known? Who could support such men who sexually assaulted little children, or those who protected the criminal, even abetting further sexual assaults?

Almost 22 years later we have our royal commission findings and recommendations, which are damning of the Catholic hierarchy and its failure to protect children from rapist priests and brothers.

This month saw victims’ accounts validated by a royal commission that forensically exam­ined witnesses and more than 1.2 million documents. It was a great moment; it was a relief and a stamp of truth on what victims had been saying for decades.

The royal commissioners, because of their five years of listening, researching and analysing, are experts on the issue of child sexual assault. There is no higher authority than them on this crime anywhere in the world.

They know what will make Australian children safe, they know what civil laws need to be enacted to counter this insidious felony against our youngest, most vulnerable, powerless citizens. The commission’s recommendations must be implement­ed by the governments of this country.

Australian taxpayers have stumped up $450 million for these recommendations, which were handed to the Governor-General on December 15 and must not go to waste by sitting on a shelf collecting dust in Parliament House.

Reacting to some of the commission’s recommendations for child protection, members of the church hierarchy promise they will go to the Vatican bleating because their power and authority have been challenged.

There was no going to the Vatican on behalf of the thousands of children raped by their colleagues; only legal arguments, petty church-restricted payouts and the silencing of children.

Now church leaders go to a Vatican knowing that the men there never lifted a finger to help or protect children, or spoke words to eradicate the child rapists among them; a Vatican that, when asked, refused to hand over church files on Australian pedophile clergy to the royal commission. All roads lead to Rome, including the pedophile road.

But in 2013 a high-ranking Catholic clergyman stated under oath to the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into the Handling of Child Abuse by Religious and Other Non-Government Organisations: “Well, we are good citizens, so if the government sets regulations for the whole of society, we certainly follow them.”

So politicians should feel free to implement the royal commission’s recommendations and enact civil laws that will ensure child safety.

By comparison, the Vatican’s canon law is nothing more than the rules of the local footy club and, as such, must be ignored by civil law. If the hierarchy wishes to reject civil law and obey canon law then we will watch them go to prison.

The damage done by the Catholic hierarchy for decades by not removing pedophile priests from contact with children, and therefore creating more victims — as confirmed by the royal commission’s findings — is a wilful, criminal abuse of power.

Apart from irreparable damage, misery and death to children and adults, the church is responsible for the enormous repair bill from attempts to restore victims’ lives. It is a huge bill that the Australian taxpayer has had to pay. Perhaps governments should look to retrieve costs by placing a levy on the Catholics and others in line with their percentage of wilful and neglectful prolonging of child sexual assault.

All that said, my family has had its first Christmas without Anthony. He passed away suddenly in May. He did not live to see the end of the royal commission during which he attended so many sessions and round tables. It is a tragedy that he did not see the victory that awaited all victims and survivors and their families.

Anthony fought a long, hard battle. His insightful analysis and gentle voice on this issue will be forever missed. He tried so hard to make the future safer for children so that what happened to our two daughters at the hands of a trusted priest, in a system of education and at the mercy of a hierarchy that has been shown not to care on any level about any child, would not happen to others.

Anthony was a great counter to the men who claimed to be holy. They had no moral compass — they are hollow men with hollow words. When they die and go to their God they may then realise they got it all wrong in protecting their body of assets and power instead of protecting the bodies of children.

Chrissie Foster, with Paul Kennedy, is author of Hell on the Way to Heaven.

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